Updated: Mar 29
Ice is undoubtably one of the most important aspects of a cocktail regardless of what cocktail you're trying to create. Ice can make or break a well made any stirred drink & drastically alter the perception & flavour of the final cocktail depending on what kind of water you're using. Although nowadays most large cities have ice providers that make & sell ice blocks as well as the entire market has expanded into ice stamps, speciality machines & moulds.
Regardless of whether you're a veteran bartender or a fresh behind the stick it is important to understand how ice freezes & especially crystal clear ice. This will help you understand how ice machines work & how to better use ice in your cocktails. Since 2012 one of the leading figures on the discussion of ice has been Camper English based out of San Francisco.
His experiments on his website - ALCADEMICS - have paved the way for bartenders making crystal clear ice at home & in smaller independent bars with space to make crystal clear ice at home. We will share one of his guides here on Cocktails For You to get you started & if you're interested in reading more head over to his website for a full index of experiments!
This post describes how to make a clear block of ice using a picnic cooler. For a later post on how to make jumbo beautiful ice cubes using the same method see this page. An index of all of the ice experiments on Alcademics can be found here.
Before I figured this out, I tried many other experiments.
Early experiments were:
And I had success with:
I also learned some ways to cut ice into big chunks.
Now I am trying to refine what I call the Pond Method, the concept that if we freeze water from the top down only (and not outside-in), all the trapped air that makes cloudy ice will be the last to freeze on the bottom of the container, rather than in the middle.
In the last attempt I used a collapsible beer cooler. I had good success in getting clear ice, but found it really hard to get the ice out of a cooler.
This time I tried freezing water in a hard-sided plastic Igloo picnic cooler. Initially I left the cover closed, but after two days it had only barely started to freeze (a good sign for its insulating abilities) so then propped the cover open.
After a few days when the water looked almost completely frozen and I could see some cloudiness forming at the bottom, I removed the cooler from the freezer. I turned the cooler upside-down and waited for the ice block to drop out of the cooler. Presto! It was ready.
There was a little unfrozen water at the bottom of the block (with only about a centimeter of ice covering it). This was easy to drain.
Then I just cut off the bottom cloudy part and had a big chunk. Easy!
Once again, the secret to cutting ice is to score it about a centimeter with a knife or saw, then chip it away with an ice pick and hammer.
I'm really surprised the cooler didn't crack after the ice expanded, but maybe it didn't because there was a little unfrozen water remaining.This Igloo cooler is a totally workable vessel for making clear ice blocks in my home freezer. Hooray! Luckily it is of a shape that allows for easy removal of the ice block.
In this first experiment with the cooler I set the freezer temperature on the lowest setting. I'll see if this matters for clarity or if I can use the high setting for faster freezing.I also want to try a disposable Styrofoam cooler (if I can find one this winter) just because there is no worry if it cracks, and this is the most reproducible vessel for other people to try at home.I should attempt to find a flexible insulating material that can be made into other shapes, such as a tall and skinny shape (thermos?) that would more easily fit in the freezer and can make smaller cubes.